Who will go first to make things happen?

By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Field Leader, a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and Soybean Check-off.

Moving soybeans via supply chains that utilize the Great Lakes need more exporters to utilize the system. At this time the stance of many exporters is that they will not use the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Sea Way system until they see more investment in the system.  Who will make the first move to get the ball rolling is the big question. Recently the DeLong Company made an investment to expand their export capacity at Port Milwaukee. This was the first step to create momentum in a positive direction. The U.S. Maritime Administration responded to the DeLong investment with a grant of $9.27 million dollars to further enhance the system. The U.S. Maritime Administration is an agency under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The U.S. Maritime Administration focuses on ways to enhance and improve U.S. port regions including those on the Great Lakes, the coastal regions, and inland waterway systems. Those assets that handle freight by maritime vessels are the focus of the agency.

The U.S. Soy Transportation Coalition recently announced that it has awarded $200,000 for the purpose of underwriting engineering, permitting, project management and construction support expenses associated with the DeLong Company project. The U.S. Soy Transportation Coalition is comprised of thirteen participating states (including the Ohio via the Ohio Soybean Council) that encompass 85% of total U.S. soybean production. It has the goal of positioning the soybean industry stakeholders to benefit from a transportation system that delivers cost effective, reliable, and competitive service. 

Diversifying U.S. supply chain assets is critical to fulfilling the mission of the U.S. Soy Transportation Coalition. “We want to be a part of investing in projects that will help diversify the soybean supply chain,” said Mike Steenhoek, Executive Director of the U.S. Soy Transportation Coalition. “We are very attentive to the Mississippi River and Gulf ports, the Pacific Northwest, and Atlantic Coast. We want to be about diversifying our supply chain. We don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket. We would rather spread them out for a more resilient supply chain, and by investing in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Sea Way, that is just one way of spreading out the eggs and being diversified and resilient.”

The hypothesis of the U.S. Soy Transportation Coalition’s $200,000 investment in the project was that anytime there are grant applicants and other groups that have skin in the game that are also willing to put money into a project, it will enhance the prospect of the grant being approved. In this case it was a federal grant by the U.S. Maritime Administration. “By being able to demonstrate additional support from the U.S. Soy Transportation Coalition and soybean farmers, that enhanced the competitiveness of the grant application,” said Steenhoek. “It’s an example of soybean farmers coming along side and playing a meaningful role.”

Diversifying shipping methods is important as well. “We want to have an all of the above approach to exporting,” said Steenhoek. “Customers want to know where their soybeans come from, how they are produced, and be able to trace all the steps in the supply chain. Our current supply chain is comprised of various points of consolidation of soybeans. When that occurs, it is not possible to tell where the beans came from. The bulk channel is very efficient and important, but less understandable. There is opportunity to capitalize on more of a localized supply chain in this global marketplace,” said Steenhoek. 

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